Gordon Lord Byron will get his shot at a million in Saturday's Qipco Queen Elizabeth II Stakes when flat racing's romantic lead takes on some of Europe's top milers at Ascot on Champions Day.
The story of a unheralded gelding that was sold for just €2,000 as a foal but has since proceeded to scale the Group One heights has been one of the feel-good themes running through the high-powered international bloodstock scene for the last couple of seasons.
On the back of a second top-flight success in the Haydock Sprint Cup last month, Tipperary trainer Tom Hogan sent his stable star back to Longchamp to defend his Prix la Foret crown on Arc day but failed to repel the superstar mare Moonlight Cloud in another game effort.
Saturday's QEII is less than two weeks after that Foret effort but Hogan yesterday confirmed Gordon Lord Byron will take on possibly the most onerous challenge of his career at the weekend when Johnny Murtagh will again guide the horse against the likes of the Classic winner Dawn Approach, another heavyweight Goldolphin star in Farhh, and other representatives from some of Europe's most powerful bloodstock teams.
Gordon Lord Byron's career earnings already scale over €800,000 but Saturday's €1.2 million pot represents a mammoth challenge for a horse whose only win at a mile to date has come at Group Three level earlier this season.
“He came back from France in very good form. I don’t think soft ground will be a problem for him. He doesn’t like heavy, but anything else from firm to soft is OK and there’s a lot of prizemoney so the aim is to go,” Hogan said yesterday.
Gordon Lord Byron is a 10/1 in some ante-post lists for Ascot with Jim Bolger’s Dawn Approach topping the betting but ground conditions could yet see some defections.
“Aidan (O’Brien) might not run any of his if it is soft, and Toronado might not run if it is soft either. Having said that, there are plenty other good horses in the race. But our horse is in very good form,” added Hogan who could afterwards target another trip to Hong Kong in December for his stable star.
Jim Bolger issued an upbeat bulletin on Dawn Approach yesterday as the Guineas winner has his first start since finishing out of the money in August's Prix Jacques Le Marois. "Dawn Approach is very well and we are very happy with him, the Co. Carlow trainer said. "I am hopeful he will be able to cope with the softer ground but we won't be sure until after the race."
Maarek has proved another fairytale success story in the last couple of years and the newly-crowned Prix de l'Abbaye winner will defend his Sprint Stakes title at Ascot on Saturday.The Eddie Lynam trio of Sole Power, Viztoria and Slade Power are also in contention to run on Saturday.
Punchestown's return to action is a sure-sign of approaching winter and while the focus of Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown Stud will be on the return of First Lieutenant at the track tomorrow, they should enjoy a fruitful session this afternoon with Thunder And Roses, Clarcam, Bonisland and King Of Oriel.